Prestige: Proxy to Select & Manage Research Projects

Source: Overcoming Bias, Jun 2016

… we often both try to hire people who seem to show off the highest related abilities, and we let those most prestigious people have a lot of discretion in how the job is structured.

For example, we let the most prestigious doctors tell us how medicine should be run, the most prestigious lawyers tells us how law should be run, the most prestigious finance professionals tell us how the financial system should work, and the most prestigious academics tell us how to run schools and research.

This can go very wrong! Imagine that we wanted research progress, and that we let the most prestigious researchers pick research topics and methods.

To show off their abilities, they may pick topics and methods that most reduce the noise in estimating abilities. For example, they may pick mathematical methods, and topics that are well suited to such methods. And many of them may crowd around the same few topics, like runners at a race. These choices would succeed in helping the most able researchers to show that they are in fact the most able.

But the actual research that results might not be very useful at producing research progress.

 

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